Local Implementation of the FAIR Education Act - Sandee Everett, CVUSD School Board

Local Implementation of the FAIR Education Act

Due to the large amount of interest in this topic and the number of questions that I have received, I am providing this post in order to clear up some of the misunderstandings that are out there about the Fair Education Act (SB 48) and how it impacts the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

My comments that follow are reflective of my own understanding of how the process of implementing this new instruction material will look – per the law and Education Code – and do not reflect the view of the board or of CVUSD.

Prior to being elected to office as a CVUSD Trustee, I campaigned on local control, accountability and transparency, as well as parental involvement in our children’s education.  I believe it is inappropriate to simply rubber-stamp those things that are merely intended as recommendations from Sacramento (and not law).  Our district should decide what is best for our particular area whenever possible.

During my campaign, I wrote a letter to the Acorn and said the following:

Something happens when you listen—you become less rigid and more collaborative and innovative in your decision-making. I will seek out and value the input of teachers, staff, administrators, parents and the community that elected me.”

I want to assure people that I have been doing this.  I have met with many people, including teachers and administrators, since this policy was first presented to us on Dec. 6th – my first meeting as a newly elected Trustee – and they have graciously taken the time to answer my questions.  I have listened carefully to public comments.  I have also carefully read each email I have received. I have heard and valued opinions from many different and opposing perspectives.  I continue to listen.  Additionally, I have worked hard to be informed about the law, state content standards, the curriculum framework, the curriculum development process, textbook adoption and many other aspects of adopting a new instruction policy.  I have done this not only to prepare myself to vote, but also to be knowledgeable when answering questions and/or concerns from a variety of community members and parents as we move forward over the coming months and years getting our new history-social science instruction fully implemented.

As far as school board trustee responsibilities go, policy adoption is among our most important responsibilities.  Instruction policy updates customarily occur once every 7-10 years.  I thank my fellow board members for extending me the professional courtesy of more time than one week to study and become informed on this very important process.  I will extend my fellow Trustees the same courtesy if ever asked.

The FAIR Education Act

The FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48) is a state law that was passed in 2011 and has been in effect since January of 2012.  This legislation amended the following sections of the Education Code: 51204.5, 51500, 51501, 60040 and 60044. Each school district must comply with this law and the pending CVUSD board of education vote on History-Social Studies Instruction policy is NOT about whether or not we will comply with the law.  All school districts in our area and all of California will comply, but how each district chooses to do that may vary.

Curriculum

It is given to each district to choose at which grade levels the FAIR Education Act directive instructional material will be taught and the choice of which specific material will be used in support of teaching that content.  We will follow the law but how exactly we do that will be determined by our local teachers, administrators, staff, parents and other stakeholders under the direction of the school board. The state offers guidelines (framework) with examples of how to do this, but these examples are not mandated or prescriptive (See Ed Code 33308.5).  Future textbook choices will also vary in how the FAIR Act material is presented.

Here is a helpful link on the California Department of Education website about the FAIR Act (SB 48).  I recommend reading these frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers.  http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/senatebill48faq.asp

For illustration purposes, I will quote a few of these questions and answers from the CDE FAQ sheet:

What new instruction is required to be taught by this law? At which grade levels does this content have to be taught?

Instruction in history–social science should include the contributions of those groups listed above in Education Code Section 51204.5, but it is up to local districts to determine how the instructional content is included. That section applies to the course of study in grades one through twelve, but again it falls to the teacher and the local school and district administration to determine how the content is covered and at which grade level(s).

Since a section of the Ed Code is referenced in the above paragraph, here is what the CDE FAQ sheet includes regarding Ed Code 51204.5:

The bill added language to Education Code Section 51204.5, which prescribes the inclusion of the contributions of various groups in the history of California and the United States. This section already included men and women and numerous ethnic groups; the expanded language now includes (additions bolded):

“…a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders,European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”

From the Fair Education Act website “About Fair” page:

Who Will Determine What is Taught Under These Updated Education Guidelines?

There is no state-mandated curriculum on these topics. Instead, the state issues guidelines and then lessons are developed and approved at the local level, where school districts and school board members, with input from parents and teachers, will decide what’s appropriate for each classroom.

 The Framework

The framework is produced by the California Department of Education as a guide or roadmap for curriculum development but it is not mandatory for local school districts [See Ed Code 33308.5], therefore, it can be used as needed but is not intended to be a prescriptive model.  The history-social studies framework material regarding the FAIR Act is included in grades 2, 4, 5, 8, 11 & 12.  Those interested can read these sections of the framework.  Again, it can be decided on the local level which grades SB 48 material will be taught.  The framework is located at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/hs/cf/sbedrafthssfw.asp

The following information from the FAIR Act website explains who worked on the FAIR Act material for the framework (See http://www.faireducationact.com/about-fair/):

Making the Framework FAIR

In partnership with the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (CLGBTH), an affiliated society of the American Historical Association, Our Family Coalition  and Gay-Straight Alliance Network supported the project of putting together recommended revisions to the existing framework. You can access the recommendations and learn something new about LGBT history in the 2014 report Making the Framework FAIR .

Parent Involvement in the Process

Parents and the community are supposed to give input about the selection of instructional materials [See Ed Code 60002].   The parent involvement I spoke of in the board meeting on January 3rd is not about speaking at board meetings regarding the vote on the policy (although this is a very important aspect of the process as per Ed Code 35145.5).  This is about parents actually working on a committee to participate in textbook and supplemental material selection.  Curriculum review will take place in approximately one year, and thus textbook selection is at least a couple of years from now.  I hope that many parents from different backgrounds and viewpoints participate in the textbook selection process so that we can make decisions that are broadly acceptable to students, parents and teachers.

Also from the CDE FAQ sheet on the FAIR Education Act (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/senatebill48faq.asp):

How should school districts address questions and concerns from parents and other members of the community about this legislation?

As with any other district policy, school districts should be open and transparent in determining policies with regard to the implementation of this and any legislation. As noted in the answers above, the law provides a great deal of flexibility on how it is implemented. Education Code Section 35145.5 requires that local governing boards include opportunities for public participation in their regular meetings, subject to local regulations, to ensure the proper functioning of those meetings.

 Conclusion

Most of the controversy surrounding the amendment of CVUSD Board Policy [6142.94] appears to be due to misunderstandings and/or misinformation. The board has never debated whether or not to implement the FAIR Education Act (SB 48), since following the law is not up for debate. Many of the public comments during board meetings have indicated a mistaken impression that the board is somehow voting on the FAIR Act (SB 48). This is not the case. The discussion has not centered around the law itself, but rather the history-social science curriculum framework, which is a non-mandatory guideline that is utilized as a tool for teachers and others working on curriculum, as discussed above [See Ed Code 33308.5]. There is no question about whether or not FAIR Act instructional material will be incorporated into the CVUSD curriculum, since that was decided by the California legislature in 2011. All that is being decided right now is the board policy that will guide the district’s process for deciding how material will be incorporated and in which grade levels.

Sandee Everett, M.S.Ed.
Trustee, Conejo Valley Unified School District

 

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